Transportation Justice in San Mateo County’s Next Funding Measure

Chris Lepe Headshot

This post was co-authored by Montzerrat Garcia Bedolla at Youth Leadership Institute and Chris Lepe. 

Last summer, Alma, who is a senior at Half Moon Bay High School, had an internship opportunity in Kaiser Redwood City. Her summer mornings started at 5:30am getting herself and her son ready for the day, with just enough time to catch the 294 bus from Half Moon Bay over the hill to connect to her bus on El Camino Real, known as the ECR. Her internship in Redwood City started at 8am every day.

“The morning commute was not that bad,” she said. “I can take a nap or eat my breakfast on the way there. Getting back to Half Moon Bay was the hard part.”

Her internship ended at 5pm. She literally ran to catch the ECR to Hillsdale Mall, because if she missed this bus, she would miss the connection window to the 294.

“I missed the 294 about 5 times that summer. Not because I was late to the first bus, but because something happened in the ECR. It was either stuck in traffic, an emergency happened, or it just didn’t get there on time.”

When she missed the 294, she had to wait 1.5 hours until the last 294 returned from Half Moon Bay. She got home at 7pm on a good day, or 9pm on a bad day.

Alma will be graduating this June and has been accepted to San Francisco State, but is considering going to one of the local community colleges because her transportation options are so limited.

Stories like Alma’s fuel the Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition (TEAMC), a coalition of 26 different organizations that envision a transportation network that moves more people with fewer cars, opens up opportunities for residents, and improves the safety and health for all. TEAMC brings together diverse voices to advance community-supported transportation solutions that provide greater access to opportunity. We engage and empower those most impacted by the existing transportation system, including low-income families, people of color, youth, seniors, people with disabilities, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Last Fall, San Mateo County and SamTrans initiated the Get Us Moving (GUM) public process in order to help inform an $80 million a year half-cent sales tax planned for this November’s election. Recognizing the importance of the measure for advancing transportation justice, TEAMC quickly mobilized and has been engaged in the GUM process since its inception, with member groups participating in public agency stakeholder and community meetings. We have also held our own TEAMC network convenings and surveyed over 1,000 people in order to inform our ballot measure expenditure plan recommendations.

Survey and Community Forum Results

One way we identified community needs and priorities related to the ballot measure was by collecting more than 1000 responses to our TEAMC survey between February and April 2018.

The survey respondents were quite reflective of the racial demographics in San Mateo County. 53% of those surveyed by TEAMC were people of color and 43% identified as white.1 And thanks the Youth Leadership Institute’s (YLI) strong ties with high schools and community college, 40% of those surveyed are under the age of 25, and 33% are between the ages of 25 and 44.

When asked what they think about the current transportation system in San Mateo County, survey respondents had a lot to say. Here are few examples:

  • “Commuting in the mornings is a nightmare. We need to invest in ways to reduce traffic overall.”
  • “It takes forever to get anywhere by bus & costs too much. The buses don't run very often and a lot of the time I need to take more than one bus. That means two wait times, not to mention two fares.”
  • “I am fine riding in traffic most of the time, but when my kids are on my bike it makes me really nervous. The county needs to take a more regional role in ensuring there are safe bike routes that connect across cities.”
  • “I love Caltrain but I would love more frequent service.”
  • “I really dislike how most of the bus stops don't have shelter or benches to sit while waiting.”
  • “I live on the coast and transportation other than by car is extremely challenging. Bus service is limited, I have no idea of when a bus might show up, and the buses are poorly integrated with BART.”

We also asked survey respondents to rank a series of goals developed by SamTrans to help determine what the upcoming transportation sales tax should fund. Several core community priorities emerged:

  • Addressing traffic congestion
  • Expanding mobility options, especially for those with significant mobility challenges
  • Improving public transit travel times and frequency
  • Improving bicycle and pedestrian access
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Respondents also identified improvements that would encourage them to take public transit more often.

Circle chart

Survey respondents were strongly supportive of investments focused on vehicle trip reduction (rather than approaches that result in more driving), as well as for investments that increase affordable Transit-Oriented Development.

bar chart 1

In addition to the survey, TEAMC conducted listening sessions with member groups in our network to hear about existing transportation challenges and ideas for improving transportation in San Mateo County. These conversations provided additional input to refine our expenditure plan proposal.

TEAMC’s Expenditure Plan Proposal

So, what did we come up with after months of community outreach and consensus building among our diverse coalition partners?

TEAMC’s expenditure plan proposal envisions affordable, safe, sustainable, convenient, and healthy transportation choices that move more people with fewer cars and connect people of all incomes, ages, and abilities to homes, jobs, schools, and other destinations. We believe that the 2018 San Mateo County transportation expenditure plan must:

  • Focus on moving more people with fewer cars in order to reduce carbon pollution and address traffic congestion, including on Highway 101 and the Dumbarton Bridge.
  • Significantly increase safe access to essential destinations, with an emphasis on protecting vulnerable populations and on traffic collision hot-spots.
  • Provide more opportunities to live near transit and jobs in order to increase transit use, walking, and biking rates, and help address the County’s rising cost of living.
  • Ensure that disadvantaged populations benefit the most from its spending, and support community stabilization efforts in cases where projects lead to displacement pressures.

TEAMC recommends that the measure’s funding be devoted to the following projects and programs:

Projects and Programs Allocation
Public Transit and Paratransit Services - TEAMC proposes 40% of the measure’s funding to maintain transit service over the life of the measure and 20% would be allocated for programs to improve the quality and quantity of transit services provided. 60%
Local Streets and Roads, Transit Grade Separations, and Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) - All roadway projects funded by this ballot measure must be planned and implemented with all road users in mind (including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users) under a Complete Streets policy 15%
Improved Walking and Biking Opportunities 10%
Equitable Strategies to Reduce the Number of Cars on the Road - Transportation Demand Management strategies will reduce motor vehicle travel, particularly in single-occupancy vehicles, resulting in less congestion and improved public health and air quality for all San Mateo County residents and commuters. All strategies and policies funded by this program must reduce solo vehicle trips, free up space on our crowded roadways, meet the transportation needs of all segments of the workforce, and create living wage jobs. 5%
Transportation Infrastructure to Support Affordable, Low-Traffic Homes - A competitive grant program will incentivize and support the creation of more affordable homes near transit by providing local jurisdictions with transportation infrastructure funding for pedestrian, bicycle, streetscape and other improvements benefiting the residents of these new homes and the surrounding neighborhoods. 5%
Dumbarton Corridor Improvements 5%

In April and May, after the development of our expenditure plan proposal, TEAMC hosted community workshops with dozens of residents and leaders in each geographic area of the county: south, central, north, and coastside. The goal of these forums was to vet our proposal, as well as to increase community and civic engagement from communities most affected to ensure they can successfully weigh in during this process.2 The response from these forums affirmed that our expenditure plan proposal is on the right track.

TEAMC Workshop photos

Some of the main themes we heard from the forums were:

  • Significant frustration with the existing transportation options available.
  • Strong sentiment that the bus network needs to be improved, including greater frequency and coverage.
  • Concern over the safety of streets for walking and biking, and support for programs that will make walking and biking safer, particularly around schools.
  • A desire to make transit services more affordable, including for youth and seniors.

We will continue to convene conversations in the weeks to come to share and build support for our recommendations and engage those most affected by existing transportation inequities. See more details about TEAMC’s expenditure plan proposal.

Get Us Moving Polling Affirms our Recommendations

Last February, the agencies involved with San Mateo County’s Get Us Moving process commissioned a poll of over 1,000 likely November 2018 voters across the county. Although those polled were a different demographic from the TEAMC survey, skewing heavily towards older white residents (67% of respondent were white for a county that is 40% white), their perspectives and priorities are strikingly aligned with our TEAMC survey respondents and ballot measure expenditure plan proposal.

High-priority programs and concepts from the GUM poll that support TEAMC’s expenditure plan include:

  • Reduce traffic congestion on highways, interchanges, and local roads
  • Repair potholes and maintain streets
  • Improve Caltrain frequency and travel times, and continue transit services for working people who cannot afford a car and rely on public transit
  • A wide range of SamTrans and Caltrain improvements:
    • Maintain, improve, and expand Caltrain and SamTrans to reduce travel times and car trips.
    • Maintain and enhance transit services for seniors and people with disabilities.
    • Provide bus service for students to reduce morning traffic.
    • Reduce traffic by leveraging new technologies that make transit easier to use and attract more riders.
  • Provide rides to seniors and people with disabilities to medical appointments, the pharmacy, grocery store, etc.
  • Provide incentives to commuters to choose transit or carpools over driving alone.

In addition to the project and program-specific polling results above, the GUM poll revealed several informational statements with high voter support that reflect the TEAMC proposal:

  • The measure will take tens of thousands of cars off of interchanges and highways.
  • Our local streets and roads are falling apart, the measure will help stop the deterioration and make repairs.
  • The measure would help reduce traffic congestion on freeways and major streets.
  • The measure will preserve bus and train service to help reduce traffic congestion.
  • The measure will make our streets and roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists, including the County's school-age children.

Like what you see? Support TEAMC’s expenditure plan recommendations

For San Mateo County residents, including youth like Alma, who will be 48 after the lifespan of this potential measure, this $2.5 billion ballot measure presents an important opportunity to advance a transportation system that can better serve their needs. But TEAMC's recommendations will only be taken seriously if people like you vocalize your support to decision makers before decision-makers vote on the expenditure plan proposal in July. Here are a few key opportunities to engage in the process:

  1. Sign TEAMC’s ballot measure expenditure plan petition
  2. Fill out the Get Us Moving (GUM) expenditure plan online budget activity.
  3. Participate in upcoming SamTrans GUM Town Halls:
    • Central County
      Thurs. May 17, 6:30 p.m.
      Lane Room, Burlingame Library
      480 Primrose Rd, Burlingame
    • Coastside
      Thurs. May 24, 6:30 p.m.
      Ted Adcock Community Center
      535 Kelly Ave, Half Moon Bay
    • South County
      Thurs. May 31, 7:00 p.m.
      Fair Oaks Community Center
      2600 Middlefield Rd, Redwood City
  4. Let us know if you’d like to get involved! Contact me if you’re interested in sharing your story, speaking out, or helping in other ways.

1. According to the US Census, 40% of SMC’s population is white.
2. 75% of SamTrans users are people of color, the average income for riders is $40,000, and 19% are riders are youth.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.